قراءة كتاب The Carpet from Bagdad
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The Carpet from Bagdad
epicureanly; then he sipped the wine. Something like! It ran across his tongue and down his throat in tingling fire, nectarious; and he went half way to Olympus, to the feet of the gods. For weeks he had lived in the vilest haunts, in desperate straits, his life in his open hands; and now once more he had crawled from the depths to the outer crust of the world. It did not matter that he was destined to go down into the depths again; so long as the spark burned he was going to crawl back each time. Damnable luck! He could have lived like a prince. Twenty-four hundred, and all in two nights, a steady stream of gold into the pockets of men whom he could have cheated with consummate ease, and didn't. A fine wolf, whose predatory instincts were still riveted to that obsolete thing called conscience!
"Conscience? Rot! Let us for once be frank and write it down as caution, as fear of publicity, anything but the white guardian-angel of the immortality of the soul. Heap up the gold, Apollyon; heap it up, higher and higher, till not a squeak of that still small voice that once awoke the chap in the Old Testament can ever again be heard. Now; no more retrospection, Horace; no more analysis; the vital question simmers down to this: If Percival Algernon balks, how far will four sovereigns go?"
THE HOLY YHIORDES
George drank his burgundy perfunctorily. Had it been astringent as the native wine of Corsica, he would not have noticed it. The little nerves that ran from his tongue to his brain had temporarily lost the power of communication. And all because of the girl across the way. He couldn't keep his eyes from wandering in her direction. She faced him diagonally. She ate but little, and when the elderly gentleman poured out for her a glass of sauterne, she motioned it aside, rested her chin upon her folded hands, and stared not at but through her vis-à-vis.
It was a lovely head, topped with coils of lustrous, light brown hair; an oval face, of white and rose and ivory tones; scarlet lips, a small, regular nose, and a chin the soft roundness of which hid the resolute lift to it. To these attributes of loveliness was added a perfect form, the long, flowing curves of youth, not the abrupt contours of maturity. George couldn't recollect when he had been so impressed by a face. From the moment she had stepped down from the carriage, his interest had been drawn, and had grown to such dimensions that when he entered the dining-room his glance immediately searched for her table. What luck in finding her across the way! He questioned if he had ever seen her before. There was something familiar; the delicate profile stirred some sleeping memory but did not wake it.
How to meet her, and when he did meet her, how to interest her? If she would only drop her handkerchief, her purse, something to give him an excuse, an opening. Ah, he was certain that this time the hydra-headed one should not overcome him. To gain her attention and to hold it, he would have faced a lion, a tiger, a wild-elephant. To diagnose these symptoms might not be fair to George. "Love at first sight" reads well and sounds well, but we hoary-headed philosophers know that the phrase is only poetical license.
Once, and only once, she looked in his direction. It swept over him with the chill of a winter wind that he meant as much to her as a tree, a fence, a meadow, as seen from the window of a speeding railway train. But this observation, transient as it was, left with him the indelible impression that her eyes were the saddest he had ever seen. Why? Why should a young and beautiful girl have eyes like that? It could not mean physical weariness, else the face would in some way have expressed it. The elderly man appeared to do his best to animate her; he was kindly and courteous, and by the gentle way he laughed at intervals was trying to bolster up the situation with a jest or two. The girl never so much as smiled, or shrugged her shoulders; she was as responsive to these overtures as marble would have been.
George's romance gathered itself for a flight. Perhaps it was love thwarted, and the gentleman with the mustache and imperial, in spite of his amiability, might be the ogre. Perhaps it was love and duty. Perhaps her lover had gone down to sea. Perhaps (for lovers are known to do such things) he had run away with the other girl. If that was the case, George did not think highly of that tentative gentleman's taste. Perhaps and perhaps again; but George might have gone on perhapsing till the crack o' doom, with never a solitary glimmer of the true state of the girl's mind. Whenever he saw an unknown man or woman who attracted his attention, he never could resist the impulse to invent a romance that might apply.
Immediately after dessert the two rose; and George, finding that nothing more important than a pineapple ice detained him, got up and followed. Mr. Ryanne almost trod on his heels as they went through the doorway into the cosy lounging-room. George dropped into a vacant divan and waited for his café à la Turque. Mr. Ryanne walked over to the head-porter's bureau and asked if that gentleman would be so kind as to point out Mr. George P. A. Jones, if he were anywhere in sight. He thoughtfully, not to say regretfully, laid down a small bribe.
"Mr. Jones?" The porter knew Mr. Jones very well. He was generous, and treated the servants as though they were really human beings. Mr. Ryanne, either by his inquiry or as the result of his bribe, went up several degrees in the porter's estimation. "Mr. Jones is over there, on the divan by the door."
But Ryanne did not then seek the young man. He studied the quarry from a diplomatic distance. No; there was nothing to indicate that George Percival Algernon Jones was in any way handicapped by his Arthuresque middle names.
"No fool, as Gioconda in her infinite wisdom hath said; but romantic, terribly romantic, yet, like the timid bather who puts a foot into the water, finds it cold, and withdraws it. It will all depend upon whether he is a real collector or merely a buyer of rugs. Forward, then, Horace; a sovereign has already dashed headlong down the far horizon." The curse of speaking his thoughts aloud did not lie heavily upon him to-night, for these cogitations were made in silence, unmarked by any facial expression. He proceeded across the room and sat down beside George. "I beg your pardon," he began, "but are you not Mr. Jones?"
Mildly astonished, George signified that he was.
"George P. A. Jones?"
George nodded again, but with some heat in his cheeks. "Yes. What is it?" The girl had just finished her coffee and was going away. Hang this fellow! What did he want at this moment?
If Ryanne saw that he was too much, as the French say, he also perceived the cause. The desire to shake George till his teeth rattled was instantly overcome. She hadn't seen him, and for this he was grateful. "You are interested in rugs? I mean old ones, rare ones, rugs that are bought once and seldom if ever sold again."
"Why, yes. That's my business." George had no silly ideas about trade. He had never posed as a gentleman's son in the sense that it meant idleness.
Ryanne presented his card.
"How do you pronounce it?" asked George naïvely.
"As they do in Cork."
"I never saw it spelled that way before."
"Nothing surprising in that," replied Ryanne. "No one else has, either."
George laughed and waited for the explanation.